MANCHESTER, NH – It is not unusual for a line to form outside the Salvation Army Cedar Street office on the first day of sign-ups for the popular Christmas Assistance program, but the rush of people who lined up Monday forced the organization to close its doors earlier than planned, says Captain Miriam Rader. Along with her husband, Capt. Herbert Rader, they are overseeing their fourth Christmas giving event at the community center.
“Doors opened at 9, and I got here at 8 a.m., and there was already a line around the block,” says Rader. “People started lining up around 7 a.m. People worry if they don’t come on the first day they won’t get to participate, but that’s why we extend the process over a few weeks, so that everyone can have a chance to register.”
Salvation Army program director for social services Rick Marshall says it’s typical for day one of the organization’s largest initiative.
“Today was not unusual for the first day of applications,” says Marshall, who said due to the overwhelming turnout, doors were closed before 11 a.m.
“What happens is we set a time aside to process applications, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. When we get such an influx of people immediately we try to make them comfortable, getting them into our chapel, in and out of the cold,” Marshall says.
Another factor was the need to limit the number of people who can be in the building at any given time, which contributed to the bottleneck, says Rader, due to fire code regulations.
Even streamlining the 15-minute intake process down to five minutes wasn’t going to allow for enough time to get everyone who showed up into the system, so doors closed early today.
But tomorrow is another day.
Application processing for the annual assistance program continues Dec. 1, from 9 a.m. to noon. Families interested in applying can do so every Mon. through Wed. until Dec. 16. Evening hours are 7:30-9 p.m. on Wednesdays, says Rader [see flyer below for details and requirements].
Of course, there are always those who get upset at being turned away after waiting in line, says Marshall, and Monday was no exception.
“When someone comes at 11 and finds out we’ve shut off applications for the day, they sometimes get angry, but we tried to explain we only have so many volunteers available to do the intake. Even closing the doors early, it took us right up until noon to finish the process,” Marshall says.
Christmas Assistance is available for any residents who are already participating in a government program, including food stamps or fuel assistance, or who meet the USDA guidelines for supplemental food assistance – a family of two earning $567 weekly, or a family of four earning $863, for example.
The goal is to make sure every child in need has a happy Christmas, says Rader, an annual feat that includes providing new toys for about 1,000 families through the Salvation Army Toy Shop, held this year on Dec. 21 at the Radisson Hotel.
Registered families will be given an appointment time to come by and “shop” for their children, ages 12 and younger. In the past three years, there have been enough resources to see that every child gets three to four toys.
“If we get double our numbers we may have to go down to two or three toys. It all depends on the number of applications and donations we receive,” says Rader. “We don’t want any leftover – we want to give it all away.”
Donations are received through the annual Red Kettle campaign, private donations and Angel Tree tags which are available in many businesses for the taking. Each tag lists a child by age and wish list.
Although the process ultimately is based on the honor system, the Salvation Army has a qualification process in place so that those who sign up must prove the children they are registering are their own children and live in the Greater Manchester area, Rader says.
“We use the income guideline most agencies use, so if a family already gets food stamps they automatically qualify. In four years of seeing a thousand families served each year, I’ve seen two of three who are above that income line. Obviously, there are people out there who are dishonest, but we do our best to make it fair for everybody,” Rader says.
“Is it possible for someone to get by who isn’t qualified? Sure. But we aren’t looking to turn people away. That’s not what this is about,” Rader says.
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